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Stocks Tank As Global Coronavirus Pandemic Fears Surge

Plus, Warren Buffett called Apple “the best business I know in the world,” Intuit is buying Credit Karma, and Walls Fargo has agreed to pay $3 billion to settle the criminal and civil cases against it.

Stocks were down to start Monday with the Dow dropping 782 points, or 2.7%. The S&P 500 fell 2.5%, while the Nasdaq slid 3%.

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Cases of the coronavirus outside of China surged sharply over the weekend, especially in South Korea and Italy. South Korea has reported 231 new cases of COVID-19, bringing its total to more than 800, while Italy reported its total cases have risen to more than 220 as the death toll there has risen to seven. “There is now very justifiably concern that this is a global pandemic and not just a China issue,” said Vishnu Varathan, head of economics and strategy at Mizuho Bank in Singapore. “The markets were taking consolation earlier on from the maturing spread cycle in China, which may no longer be the pertinent metric to follow now it it is the spread outside of China that’s causing concern.” Total confirmed cases globally now top 79,400 and total deaths caused by the virus are at least 2,621.

A global flight to safety amid growing coronavirus fears pushed gold to nearly $1,700 alongside tumbling treasury yields. The 10-year Treasury hit its lowest level since July 2016, while the 30-year Treasury yield hit a record low. “Global pandemic concerns catalyzed an intuitive rotation out of risk assets and into safe havens to start the week. …The most important number in the US Treasury market has become 1.3180% – the all-time record low yield mark set in the aftermath of Brexit. If that level is breached, look out below.” said BMO Capital Markets head of U.S. rates strategy Ian Lyngen in a note out this morning. “It’s difficult to imagine a scenario with a compelling ‘all clear’ on the COVID-19 virus in the near term, but things can/will get much worse before getting better. That asymmetry will govern trading conditions this week and makes it difficult to sustain any cheapening in safe-havens.”

Apple and its suppliers were among those stocks hit the hardest on U.S. exchanges this morning, with Apple down nearly -4%, and Skyworks Solutions and Qorvo both down nearly -3% at the time of writing. Warren Buffett told CNBC in an interview this morning that Apple is “probably the best business I know in the world,” adding that the iPhone maker is Berkshire Hathaway’s “third largest business.” “I don’t think of Apple as a stock. I think of it as our third business,” Buffett said. “And that is a bigger commitment that we have in any business except insurance and the railroad.”

Turbo Tax maker Intuit Inc is nearing an agreement to buy personal-finance portal Credit Karma Inc for around $7 billion, according to a report from the Wall Street Journal. The cash and stock deal is expected to be announced as soon as today and would push Intuit further into the growing online consumer finance sector. Credit Karma says its customers include a third of all Americans who have a credit profile, and had been expected to pursue an initial public offering but shelved the idea in favor of pursuing a sale after last year’s failed WeWork IPO and rocky public start for tech unicorns like Peloton and Uber.

And Wells Fargo has agreed to pay $3 billion and admit wrongdoing to settle criminal and civil investigations with the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission over its fraudulent fake-account scandal. “This case illustrates a complete failure of leadership at multiple levels within the bank,” said U.S. Attorney Nick Hanna in a statement. “Simply put, Wells Fargo traded its hard-earned reputation for short-term profits, and harmed untold numbers of customers along the way.” Newly installed Wells Fargo CEO Charlie Scharf said in a prepared release, “The conduct at the core of today’s settlements—and the past culture that gave rise to it—are reprehensible and wholly inconsistent with the values on which Wells Fargo was built. While today’s announcement is a significant step in bringing this chapter to a close, there’s still more work we must do to rebuild the trust we lost.”

Stocks We’re Watching

Avadel Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: AVDL): Shares of this biotech are up nearly 12% this morning and jumped 35% higher on Friday after it sold 8,680,225 American depositary shares and 487,614 shares of Series A nonvoting convertible preferred shares for $7.09 each in a private placement with a group of institutional investors, grossing the company $65 million. Avadel is developing a controlled-release formula of sodium oxybate, FT218, as a once-nightly treatment for narcolepsy, which is currently being studied in the pivotal phase 3 REST-ON clinical trial. Topline data from this trial is expected in the second quarter of 2020.

DiamondRock Hospitality (NYSE: DRH): DiamondRock shares gained 12% on Friday after the company delivered an earnings beat in its Q4 report. The real estate investment trust reported earnings of $0.27 per share, compared to Wall Street consensus estimates for $0.24 per share, on net income of $134.6 million. “We exceeded the top end of our internal expectations and guidance in 2019 as our hotels collectively gained 260 basis points of market share against their competitive sets,” said DiamondRock president and CEO Mark W. Brugger in a statement. “This success demonstrates the quality of our portfolio and the fruits of our best-in-class asset management platform. Looking forward, DiamondRock should benefit from strong group pace up 14.1%, tailwinds from 2019 renovations and continued strength at our resorts in 2020.”

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